"Adults, unlike children, are guided by memories, driven by them until they figure out how to contain them, live with them."
The comparisons to Indiana Jones are, of course, inevitable when discussing JUNGLELAND: A MYSTERIOUS LOST CITY, A WWII SPY, AND A TRUE STORY OF DEADLY ADVENTURE by Christopher S. Stewart. I finished reading this crackerjack true adventure story (published in 2013) yesterday and the entire time I was reading it, two thoughts kept going through my head.
The first was, you can't make up a story like this. Well, you could, but it wouldn't be nearly as fascinating as this one which involves the search for a lost city in the jungles of Honduras, an explorer who later became an OSS operative during World War II and a modern day search by the author to find the city and by extension, himself. There are pirates, bandits, revolutionaries, natives (some peaceful, some not), mysterious monkey gods, wild, deadly animals, the threat of disease, rivers, rapids, meager food, a Geo Prizm and the constant, ever present, suffocating atmosphere of the green hell of the jungle.
The second thought in my mind at all times while reading this absolutely terrific book was that, yeah, this is definitely the stuff of pulp adventure stories. Indiana Jones, of course but also the great Doc Savage who had more than one adventure involving lost cities and impenetrable jungles. There's also a slight men's adventure magazine vibe to the proceedings. I can see a vintage issue, circa nineteen fifty something with a cover blurb: "I Found the Lost City of the Monkey Gods!"
Author Christopher Stewart divides his narrative into two parts. The first is the expedition by Theodore Morde in 1940 to find the legendary Ciudad Blanca, or White City, supposedly hidden somewhere in the jungles of Honduras. The second is Stewart's own expedition to retrace Morde's steps in present day to see if he too can find the city that Morde claimed to have found.
Stewart alternates his chapters between Morde in the past and his own experiences in the present and they're remarkably similar. Morde was a wanderer and explorer who went on to serve as an agent for the wartime OSS (later the CIA) in Europe during WWII. Morde, who took his own life in the 1950s, left behind notes, journals and maps that document his discovery of the ruins of the city deep in the jungle.
Stewart, a freelance writer by trade and rookie explorer with a wife and young daughter back home in Brooklyn, enlisted the aid of a veteran, Chris Begley, to assist him on his quest.
Both Morde and Stewart discovered what appear to be the same ruins of a city in the jungle but the real White City remains just out of reach. At the end of Stewart's journey, Chris Begley reveals to him his theory about what the White City really is and it makes perfect sense.
The White City is not a physical place, not a location on a map. Instead, it's a place within our collective memories of where we came from, our home towns, the houses we grew up in. For the natives in Honduras, it's a sacred place, a recollection of the way life used to be prior to the arrival of the white man.
For Stewart, it's the realization that his White City is where his wife and daughter are but in order to truly know that, he first had to risk his life on an extraordinary journey. It's like the old saying, in order to truly find yourself you must first get lost.
JUNGLELAND is a page-turner par excellence. It's a vivid, thrilling adventure story about external and internal discoveries. Highly recommended.